Six Tips for Navigating Grief During the Holidays

For those who have lost loved ones, or those who are caring for people experiencing grief, the holiday season can be tricky to navigate. Here are some tips from the Rev. Kristin Kaulbach Miles, Trinity’s Director of Pastoral Care and Community, and the Rev. Sarah McCaslin, MDiv, LMSW, a therapist with the Psychotherapy & Spirituality Institute, for keeping the season of joy from becoming a season of stress.

If you are experiencing grief:

1. Do those things that effortlessly bring you positive feelings. If you love nature, go to the park. If you love Michael Jackson’s music, turn it on and dance.  

2. “Self-care" is not selfish. Say no to the holiday party that will drain you or cut short activities, letting your family or friends know ahead of time. Setting expectations can relieve you of commitments that exhaust you and increase isolation and sadness.

3. Ask for what you need and be specific. If family and friends offer to help, ask them to take your kids for an afternoon, so that you can rest, or to play 'buffer' between you and your well-meaning but exhausting relative. 

If you are caring for someone who is grieving:

4. Avoid platitudes. Your job isn't to fix the person who is grieving or to give advice. Your role is to say, “I'm sorry you are hurting; I'm here for you.”

5. Make specific offers of help. Instead of saying, 'let me know if there's anything I can do,' try 'I'd like to bring dinner on Tuesday night. Would that be OK?' Open-ended offers place the burden on the griever.

6. You can't 'break’ the griever. There's nothing you can say that is worse than the loss they have just experienced. But silence can hurt. If you say something that doesn't feel right or true, say you're sorry. Your honesty and willingness to speak to the loss is invaluable.

The Rev. Kristin Kaulbach Miles is an Episcopal priest and Board Certified Chaplain who serves at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City.  Prior to Trinity, she was Pediatric Chaplain at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.

The Rev. Sarah McCaslin, MDiv, LMSW, is an ordained minister and licensed social worker. As a therapist at the Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute in New York City, she employs both her clinical and pastoral training to counsel individuals and couples. 


If you’re grieving during the holidays, you’re invited to attend Comfort at Christmas: A Service for Those in Grief or Loss, 5pm, Sunday, Dec. 16, at Trinity’s Chapel of All Saints.